Vilsack rips media over swine flu, I mean, H1N1
Hog markets are depressed. Farmers struggle to put food on the table. Hard times are seeping into the rural economy, hurting owners of grocery and hardware stores.
Blame the media, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, unleashing several lengthy rants about the evils of oversimplification during a 25-minute teleconference with reporters on Thursday.
Vilsack scolded the media for continuing to call the new strain of pandemic H1N1 flu by its more common name: swine flu.
“It is not swine flu,” Vilsack thundered. “Every time that is said, consumers get confused. Schools that are considering purchases for school lunch and school breakfast programs get confused, get worried.”
Vilsack implied that pork consumption is down because people worry they can catch swine flu — whoops, H1N1 — from eating pork. (You can’t.) Instead of stressing safety of pork, or sharing details about how the USDA plans to keep watch for the flu-that-shall-not-be-named in hogs, Vilsack dressed down reporters for harming farmers.
“I know this may seem difficult for people, or silly, unless you’re the pork producer, unless you’re out there trying to make a living and take care of your family,” said Vilsack, heading straight over the top.
“And you pick up the paper, you turn on the radio, you turn on the television, and you see this thing mischaracterized, and then you try to go to the market and sell your pork, and you get less than what you’re spending to produce it. And so you’ve got to tell your family you’ve got to do without.”
Now, we wouldn’t want to oversimplify the issue. Ripped from Reuters’ headlines, here are some facts about That Flu and hog markets.
* The virus is a mixture of two swine viruses, one of which also contains genetic material from birds and humans.
* Scientists believe the virus was circulating undetected for years, most likely in hogs, before it jumped to humans.
* The H1N1 virus has not yet been found in U.S. hogs.
* Swine flu viruses are not tracked like other livestock diseases because they are rarely fatal and because humans can’t catch them from eating pork.
* U.S. pork was banned in many overseas markets after the virus turned up in humans.
* All those markets have since reopened, except for China.
* U.S. hog producers have been losing money for almost two years because of high feed costs and the impact of the recession, which has hurt demand.
* Concerns about “swine flu” have not helped matters.
* Hog producers have urged the government to buy more pork for feeding programs than the USDA has thus far committed.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya (U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visits a corn plantation at Muguga in the outskirts of the Kenya’s capital Nairobi, August 4, 2009.)